Why Do Consumers Avoid One Car and Buy Another? Often, for No Good Reason at All

  • Share
  • Read Later
Adam Gault / Getty Images

A new study shows that when many drivers are shopping for cars, they don’t winnow their searches by researching vehicle quality and reliability reports. Instead, they often make their decisions based on preconceived notions and “conventional wisdom.”

In its latest “Avoider Study,” J.D. Power and Associates once again surveys consumers to figure out why they fail to consider certain vehicles. Many drivers, it seems, would never own a Chevy or Chrysler or Subaru. And why not? Often, the study concludes, consumers are biased against certain auto brands for no valid reason:

The study finds that, among buyers who avoid a particular model due to concerns about quality and reliability, a sizable proportion—43 percent—say their avoidance was due to “the brand’s vehicles, in general, are known to have poor quality/reliability.

Avoiding certain cars, or an automaker’s entire fleet, for this reason would be fine if the general consensus about their quality and reliability was accurate. But, the report’s authors state, that’s not the case.

Without incorporating personal experience, research, or expert ratings and reviews, consumers are judging vehicles based mostly on preconceived notions—and even if these notions were once based on facts, they could very well be outdated by now. The automotive industry has undergone dramatic changes in recent years, and the clunkers of yesteryear may be among the most reliable cars on the road today.

(MORE: Is That a Ford? Fiat? U.S. Consumers See Fewer Differences in Car Brands)

Jon Osborn, J.D. Power’s research director, names Lincoln as an example of a brand that’s avoided due to the perception that it’s not reliable—a perception that turns out to be false. Per the Los Angeles Times:

Dependability is one of the major reasons why shoppers say they avoid the Lincoln brand of Ford Motor Co., “but it turns out that Lincoln scores very high in our reliability studies, they are a top 10 performer among all brands,” Osborn said. “There is a real disconnect because of perception and reality.”

Nonetheless, perceptions, which are different than fact-based conclusions, greatly influence what we’re going to buy. Perceptions help us decide which cars to avoid, and which cars we want to take home.

Based on the survey results, there has been a fundamental shift in how U.S. automakers are perceived by drivers. In the past, the assumption was that, in terms of reliability, American cars were inferior to imports—particularly, imports from Japan. Lately, though, only 6% of consumers said they avoided GM, Ford, or Chrysler cars due to concerns about reliability. A higher proportion (14%) said they avoided imports because of worries about quality and reliability.

(MORE: Survey: Women Are Smarter, More Thorough When Buying Cars)

Conventional wisdom fluctuates over time, but that doesn’t mean that the consensus POV is right at any particular time, or ever. Hence, the reason why it’s always wise to do one’s own research—perhaps with the help of “best value” lists from Consumer Reports and U.S. News, Kiplinger, and others—rather than just relying on the conventional wisdom (biases?) of the past.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.